WORCESTER Earth Day will be Friday. Residents of Worcester are planning cleanups and trips to the parks for a relaxing picnic. Take a look around and take in the many trees that dot the city.
They offer shade during the summer, which reduces the need for air conditioning to run at full blast. Their roots absorb water from heavy downpours to reduce flooding and runoff into storm drains.
Remember the leaves on the trees. They reduce global warming by taking in carbon dioxide. They also convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, a chemical element that the human race cannot live without.
Edward M. AugustusJr., City Manager, has taken the health of its shade trees seriously since he took over in 2014. Since Edward M. AugustusJr. took over as City Manager in 2014, Worcester has taken the care of its shade trees very seriously, according to Robert Antonelli, assistant commissioner for public works who also serves the city’s tree warden.
The numbers are in support of this assertion. Since 2014 Worcester has planted an average of 200-300 trees per annum, compared to approximately 50-75 trees during the tenures of Michael V. OBrien.
Antonelli says that OBriens city budget was subject to severe financial challenges, which limited Worcester’s investment in trees, particularly during economic downturns of 2004 and 2008.
Worcester also upped its tree spending.
The city has invested approximately $250,000 annually in trees since Augustus joined the board in 2014. The funds come from a free cash account, which includes unused funds from the previous fiscal years. Tree maintenance is supported by a yearly state grant of $100,000-150,000.
What happens to Augustus when he leaves his job at end of next month? A move he announced in March.
Antonelli feels that the next permanent manager of a city should share Augustus’s belief that city trees are vital for the community.
Antonelli said that this quality-of life function must continue. I hope that the next mayor will have the same commitment to parks and forests as Augustus and all the other functions we do.
The planting of 200-300 trees is in progress.
It all starts with certified arborists from Davey Resource Group, who are taking inventory of all public trees within the city’s five districts.
Public trees include those that are in rights of way and those located in the city’s 61 public parks or Hope Cemetery.
Davey should complete the task by the end May or early June. Antonelli anticipates that the result will highlight 30,000 points. This will include a mix of existing trees, potential planting locations and spots where there may be a tree stump.
With this information, the city can plant 200-300 trees next spring.
Diversification is key
Diversification is the key word when it comes to the species that will go into the ground. It is important to not put all your eggs into one basket.
You can plant a variety of species and your community will be better protected from an invasive species like the Asian longhorned beetles that infested Worcester in 2008.
They enjoyed maple trees, many of them planted after the devastating Worcester tornado in 1953.
After planting so many maples, the city learned a hard lesson and focused its efforts on diversifying its tree species by planting other varieties, such as sweet gum, linden, and oak varieties.
Antonelli stated that the U.S. Department of Agriculture now says the Asian longhorned beetle has been largely controlled. He also said that the city is considering the possibility of bringing in maple varieties, particularly those that are brilliant in fall colors.
Master plan in the making
City Hall is also working on other fronts related to public trees.
One is an Urban Forestry Master Plan, which will guide how the city manages its trees. In September, each of the five districts will host public meetings.
The master plan will be driven with public input and input from city departments as well the City Council.
Antonelli said that what we were trying to accomplish with the plan was to provide a guidebook of how to move forestry forward, and what we can do better for the community in the end.
The second front is the formation of an Urban Forestry Tree Commission, made up of five Worcester residents.
Interviews were held over the past month to fill the five vacant spots. The city plans to name the members by the middle of next month.
Antonelli said that we need to finalize the details of the commission. They would be more eyes and ears, aid us in research, and be able engage the community.
It’s another tool that can be used to educate and inform people about what is happening and why it is done the way it is.
The benefits outweigh the complaints
Sometimes, residents complain about the dropping of leaves from public trees on their lawns. These same residents may wonder if there is a way to get rid off these trees.
Antonelli believes that trees have many benefits. He cited a few of the reasons trees are so beneficial. They provide shade on hot days, shade from the sun, and shelter wildlife.
Plus, leaves that fall to the ground in the fall are collected by city crews, chopped into compost, and given away to Worcester residents as a source of nourishment for their gardens.
Antonelli said, “Public shade trees are an essential component overall, as well as the comfort, and environment piece. In the end, I see public shade trees as a benefit which definitely outweighs any concern, including raking leaves.
Henry Schwan can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @henrytelegram